SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers sitting on the Senate Committee on Public Safety today were skeptical about the overbreadth of new legislation that would amend the state’s “pandering” law.
Introduced by state Sen. Patricia Bates, California Senate Bill 1204 could potentially cast a wider net for more criminal defendants, making it easier to charge individuals who act as third parties.
By amending the statute, SB 1204 would make it a felony to provide any help or outreach to sex workers, including harm-reduction services like distributing condoms or providing bad-date lists.
State Sens. Holly Mitchell, Nancy Skinner and Scott Weiner voiced concern that the wording of the bill was too broad, and that the bill needed to be reworded for a new vote.
As a result, a vote from the Senate Committee on Public Safety has been delayed by a week. Another vote will take place on Tuesday.
“Some of the senators voiced concern on the wording of the bill as being too broad, as it removes terms such as ‘coercion’ and ‘force’ from the original bill, [and] it opens up interpretation of what constitutes pandering to anyone helping sex workers,” said Mira Fey, a visiting student researcher from UC Berkeley who has been following sex worker issues.
Fey told XBIZ that there has been enormous opposition from sex worker organizations, outreach organizations, individual sex workers and other concerned individuals over the bill.
In front of the state capitol, scores of sex workers, many holding fully drawn red umbrellas, showed their unity today.
“Leading up to the hearing, hundreds of faxes were collected against the bill, and also at the hearing around 30 people spoke out against it,” she said.
Fey said that she was part of an organized protest against the bill, as well as a press conference in front of the Capitol, yesterday. She said that more than 50 individuals from the US PROStitutes Collective and SWOP-Sacramento showed up.
“Spokespeople of these organizations were principal witnesses at the hearing today,” Fey said.
Both the Free Speech Coalition and the ESPLER Project (Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project) have condemned SB 1204.
“The new law is written so broadly and poorly that it would criminalize conversations about sex work, sex worker political advocacy, harm reduction efforts, health care interventions, and self-protection by sex workers within the industry — each punishable by a mandatory three-to-six years in prison,” the FSC said last month.
ESPLER Project also said: “Sex workers will die because of this bill. The politicians that propose bills like SB 1204 have blood on their hands. If they are serious about fighting sex trafficking, we call on them to support our fight to decriminalize sex work.”
Photo courtesy of Mira Fey